Wines of the Heart [Vol. 7] Burgundy on a Budget

Written by Simone Popov · 6 min read >

Are budget-friendly, bargain Burgundies a myth? Can one shop for Burgundy on a budget that is not as large as some country’s GDP?

If you haven’t read the “Behind the Label” article, click here

Famed Bourgogne producers like D’Auvenay and Romanee-Conti have long been priced out of anyone’s budget, save for Royalty, Crypto-Billionaires, and Jeff Bezos. But they are not the only game in town. Young, creative, and innovative producers, many still flying under the radar, are producing absolute stunners from less fashionable appellations. Many established and historic producers are expanding their portfolios to include more affordable bottlings. Global warming is slowly shifting ideal production zones, allowing vignerons to achieve optimal ripeness in less-reputable lieux-dits.

That said, Burgundy still has so much to explore, and budget options are still available. These won’t be your grocery store “under $10” budgets, as the land prices of Burgundy range from expensive to ludicrous. But you can find some incredible quality in the under-$30-70 category.

You just have to know where to look. I am here to help.

In this article, I will suggest what you should look for when searching for a Burgundy online and in-store. I will also propose some of the wines I had that were of exceptional value and quality.

Lesser Cuveés from Great Producers

I want to remind readers that while the vineyard’s magical environment (aka terroir) can play a vital role in the wine’s style, the vignerons often contribute most to quality. Bourgogne, while frequently marketed based on its terroir, is NOT an exception to the rule. Thus, two producers sourcing grapes from the same hectare of vines may command significantly different prices, even if the “terroir” difference is negligible.

So when looking for deals in Burgundy, it is good to remember that the famous estates on the tip of every sommelier’s tongue, which make the most incredible (and expensive) Premiers Crus and Grands Crus, also pay the same level of care and attention to their less-esteemed sites. And it is in remembering this “secret”, a consumer can find some great wines from incredible producers for a fraction of the cost, but still at near-comparable quality.

[Recommendation] Domaine Leflaives Macon-Verze

Price: $71 [WineSearcher]

Burgundy on a budget

To many in the wine world, Domaine Leflaive signifies the pinnacle of white wine in Burgundy (and maybe the world). Since 1717, the domaine has pursued acquiring the best lots of land in the Cote de Beaune. Now, Leflaive owns five hectares in the lauded terroirs of Le Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet,  Batard-Montrachet, and Bienvenues-Batard-Montrachet, as well as 11.5 hectares of some of the best Premier Crus in the village of  Pulligny. Each vineyard was converted to biodynamic viticulture, showing dogmatic dedication to preserving the land for centuries.

The most recent expansion of Leflaive was outside of Pulligny, with 9.5 hectares divided into five different parcels in the village of Macon-Verze. These entry-level wines, still farmed biodynamically with the utmost respect to terroir, are a great introduction to the Domaine’s style and are of sufficient quality to carry the name of one of the best estates in Burgundy on the label.

[Recommendation] Claude Dugat Bourgogne Rouge

Price: $62 [WineSearcher]

Burgundy on a budget

Claude Dugat is yet another winery that has achieved cult status. Yet, for all its recognition, the producer is not incredibly expensive. The Domaine, based in Gevrey-Chambertin and with roots going all the way back to the 19th century, has some of the village’s most sought-after vineyards in  Premier Cru Lavaux Saint-Jacques and Grands Crus Charmes-Chambertin, Chapelle-Chambertin, and Griottes-Chambertin.

 Dugat is well respected, so you may have a challenge procuring his wines. But an avid Pinot Noir enthusiast loves a challenge.  The Bourgogne,  Dugat’s regional ‘house style’ is evident in their entry-level offering, as the wine shows incredibly concentrated flavors without feeling over-extracted or overbearing. There is a silkiness to the wine, a pleasant and joyous character that is the absolute essence of Pinot Noir.

The vineyards are tended in organic and biodynamic methods, and in the winery the approach has shifted towards mitigation of overt extraction or exceeding new oak. With such a tremendous baseline to go on, it is very interesting to check out some of the exceptional Premiers Crus and Grands Crus under the estate’s control (though this will set you back a bit more than $60)

Artisans of the Obscure [Varieties]

90.5% of Bourgogne is planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. While these grapes of immense pedigree and reputation guarantee quality and typicity, they also guarantee a premium. So, an easy option is to seek producers specializing in Bourgogne’s “secondary” grapes. There are a couple of “secondaries”, but the ones whose quality deserves the most praise are the white Aligoté and red Gamay. Both varieties have had a negative reputation, but they can produce exceptional quality wines in the right hands and on suitable soils.

Note: Gamay is the primary grape of Beaujolais, which can be considered a part of Burgundy. However, for our purposes here, we are leaving off the beautiful wines of Beaujo (for future articles). You should also explore those delicious Gamays, which offer an incredible QPR (quality-price-ratio).

Recommendation [Aligoté] Domaine A & P De Villaine Bouzeron

Price: $39 [WineSearcher]

To read more about Aubert DeVillaine’s Cote Challonaise project and other producers of top-quality Aligoté, click here.

The name of Aubert DeVillaine, the co-gérant (co-manager, so to speak) of Société Civile de la Domaine De la Romanee Conti (or DRC for short), is well respected in Burgundy. So when he ventured into the Cote Challonaise in the 70s and began making exceptional Aligoté, the world took notice. I am not historically attuned enough to say that Aubert was the first to elevate the recognition of Aligoté, but it certainly seems that way. Regardless, his Bouzeron is an exceptional wine and a delicious example of the hights of the grape while still being affordable (infinitely more affordable than some other labels to which De Villaine has attached his name…)

Recommendation:[Gamay] Guillot-Broux “En Beaumonts”, Macon-Cruzille

Price: $32 [WineSearcher]

Gamay is the primary grape of any “Macon-Villages” red. As Burgundy expands from the linear escarpment sliver of the Cote de Nuits into the flatter expanses of the Maconnais, the soils also transition from limestone to granite. Gamay takes well to granitic soils and shows immense promise here. Much of it (like much of the Macon wine in general) is of passable quality, but in the wine of Guillot-Broux, I found a much more profound complexity and elegance.

 Tasting it blind in a lineup of Gamays, I thought someone may have played a trick on me and snuck an aged Pinot into the lineup. When I discovered that the grapes are grown on limestone soils, my first assumption made more sense. Spice, savory umami quality, and earthy character were dominant, which is atypical to a classic, easy-drinking Gamay.

Stars in the Making

When chasing Burgundy’s 5-6 “big names” becomes fiscally impossible, it is time to look to the up-and-comers, the young guns, the future all-stars. It may sound like talking to a hipster ( a title I have received before on account of my love of the obscure)  in line for a concert in LA, but knowing producers “before they go mainstream” is the move when it comes to Burgundy. These may not be the most favorable terroirs. Still, through great ingenuity, viticultural understanding, and stewardship of the land, these producers are dazzling the wine world while still flying under the radar.

[Recommendation] Bret Brothers, Pouilly-Fuissé, Chardonnay ‘Terre de Vergisson’

Price: $41 [WineSearcher]

Brett Brothers: Bargain Burgundy

Macon has always been a hotbed of progressive, young winemakers willing to experiment, challenge the status quo, and improve on the age-old formula.

Maybe it has something to do with the land prices, but I digress.

A great example of this dedication paying dividends is the humble Bret Brothers and their “sister” winery, La Soufrandiere, based in the Maconais hamlet of Vinzelles. Whereas La Soufrandiere is entirely estate-grown and vinified, the Bret Brothers is a negociant label and thus provides an even better value for the price.

 (not that La Soufrandiere is excessively expensive either, at around $60-80 a bottle, on par with your standard Napa Chardonnay)

But don’t be fooled into believing that the negoce vineyards are somehow less meticulously farmed vs the estate. Jean-Philippe and Jean-Guillaume Bret expect the same level of quality farming from their “sourced” vineyards as they achieve in their lots of land. That is to say, all of the vineyards are farmed biodynamically, with the utmost focus on the health of the soil, flora, and fauna. And therein lies the quality.

Author’s note: With examples from Leflaive and Bret Brothers, it is evident that there is something there regarding biodynamic practices in the vineyard and their correlation to the quality of the wine. Even so, many naysayers may want to discount the “holistic approach” of biodynamic viticulture, likening it to a “rain dance” or “voodoo”. I had a similar opinion, but I had the opportunity to chat with Nicolas Joly, one of the biodynamic movement’s more iconic and outspoken leaders, and it has changed my view on the process. See the article here.

[Recommendation] Domaine de la Cras, Bourgogne, Coteaux de Dijon Rouge

Price: $32 [WineSearcher]

Domaine de la Cras bargain Burgundy

How does one become a Bourgogne vigneron?

The easy way is to be incredibly rich, as money moves mountains. You can also belong to an illustrious and famous winemaking family and step into the reigns of an already-established domaine, a path awarded to the lucky few.

 Or, as with many of the “new blood” of Burgundy, you can shed blood, sweat, and tears, learn and progress, and finally gain some lot of land deemed inferior to later transform it into a viticulture paradise. It may not be the easiest pathway, but certainly the most rewarding.

This is how Marc Soyard entered the industry: an outsider from a non-viticultural Jura family, yet passionate about pursuing the trade. He spent six years as the vineyard manager under Jean-Yves Bizot, honing his craft in the vineyard and learning all he could in the winery. Finally, when the city of Dijon had acquired a large swath of land outside the city, they turned to Marc’s expertise to steward the land and produce wines worthy of Burgundy’s commercial capital.

Honorable Mentions

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the article clearly states that the quality of Burgundy is really down to the producer. It is an unpopular opinion, I know, but it’s far too true. So here are some of my favorite go-to producers for affordable Burgundies (that didn’t make the main article)

*Drum-roll please

  • Sylvain Pataille
  • Didier Fornerol
  • Jerome Galeyrand
  • Thomas Bouley
  • Henri Naudin-Ferrand (Claire Naudin)
  • Verget (Guffens-Heynen)
  • Domaine Paul Pillot
  • Benjamin Leroux
  • Vincent Dureuil-Jannthial
  • Simon Bize
  • Henri Germain
  • Pascal Prunier Bonheur
  • Petit Roy
  • Raphaelle Guyot
  • Domaine Pattes Loup
  • Jean-Marc Vincent
  • Domaine des Croix

There you have it, as close to a comprehensive list of quality producers at low price points as I can get to. It is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully, it will give you a little more insight than before you read it.

Now, get out there and get hunting.

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